To celebrate the launch of our new DX prime, the NIKKOR Z DX 24mm f/1.7, perfect for portraits and street alike, we chat with British street photographer Ben Moore on the art of urban image-making
Ben Moore didn’t pick up a camera until he was 30, but in the last 13 years has become one of Europe’s hottest image-makers of the urban environment. Like so many people, Ben started off wanting to record images of his growing children. But this blossomed into an obsession with composition, technique and finding shots that no one else had taken, from the ground and the air. We sat down with Ben to talk about his photography journey, his tips for beginners and the lure of the urban landscape.
Nikon Magazine: Was there a moment when you thought ‘I can do this!’?
Ben Moore: I was taking lots of photos of my kids, mostly terrible ones, and then I took one great photo! That sparked the idea that I could actually get good at this. Everyone needs that little bit of help – that lifeline. Even if it’s just luck, it’s a thing that can make you believe that you can get better. The main thing is to not be scared of taking terrible photos. It’s going to happen. It’s hard because it’s only you – there’s no one cheering for you. But, if you push yourself, and keep going, you’ll learn and get better.
What was that first camera?
It was a Nikon D3000 I bought from a friend. I love my gadgets, so a camera that could change lenses was a must, I remember thinking, ‘Why haven’t I got this?’ I had no idea what I was doing or what lenses I would need, because I didn’t know what sort of photography I wanted to do. I got a 50mm to start with because I thought that was a way in to getting a sharp lens, and, and then, I bought the worst lens for me personally, which was a Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED. It was so heavy! I learned that, for me, the 50mm was what worked and I was taking good pictures, which didn’t happen with the 70-300mm. So, I was learning by making mistakes. I didn’t realise that camera would open up a whole can of worms for me. I do feel that photography found me, rather than the other way around.
How did your love for architectural and urban photography develop?
I’d been shooting for a while, learning my arsenal of skills with different people, and I got into ‘urbex’, which is urban exploring, and I met a couple of people who were shooting for Instagram and we would go and shoot buildings. I just got really into it, the lines of buildings, the spiral staircases, and it grew and grew and became my favourite thing to shoot. By that time, I was shooting a lot of different things and shooting for people, but I wasn’t shooting for myself. I’d worked with people doing fashion in studios and things and I knew I didn’t want to go into that industry.
A lot of your shots have no people in them now. Is that something you prefer?
If you can get access to an empty building it really lifts your game. Sometimes, you might want one person in the shot to show a sense of scale, or, if you have one person in shot, it’s because it matches the flow of the image – maybe a businessman in a suit in an office building – something that adds to the story. I love empty buildings. Leading lines and symmetry are my bread and butter, but it depends what you get at the time. If you’re travelling and you’re only getting one time to visit somewhere you work with what’s there.
Are you shooting in full manual mode?
Mostly, yes. But here’s the thing, I don’t think anyone should have to shoot in a certain way. You should shoot how you shoot. Cameras have all these functions to make life easier, so if you need to use auto mode or aperture priority, or shutter, then do what works for you. Especially when you’re starting out. Nailing composition and focus is far more important. I shoot manual because I want more control over the camera, and that will come to people once they are confident in their composition.
How much does editing play a role in your images?
I feel like editing adds my signature to the image. It’s always about the image and making it look like no one else could have taken it. Sometimes, I do virtually no editing at all and sometimes there’s a lot of Photoshop. Always look at each individual shot and see what it needs to make it more impactful.
Aerial photography is another speciality. How did that begin?
A friend bought me a helicopter flight as a birthday present and it was sick! Then another friend got a drone and because he had one, I had to get one too! He left it alone after the novelty wore off but I took it to another level. I was looking at Google Maps for patterns that I could see and take shots of. That’s another tip for beginners too – don’t buy things just because they’re new and then let them sit in a cupboard. If you buy something new, then use it, go out and create, take lots of shots and learn how to use things.
Is there a difference between drone shooting and helicopter shooting?
I mean helicopters are better because of the experience! But with the drone you can get more precise and more accurate shots. It really depends what you’re after.
And are you an EVF shooter or do you use the monitor?
I shoot both ways, but it depends on the situation and how accurate I want to be. If it’s really straight lines, I need to have my eye to the camera but other situations I can use the monitor. There’s no right or wrong way – as long as you get the shots.
Is it difficult to get access to the buildings you shoot in?
London is the most difficult. There’s a lot of admin and it can be really hard. I’ve booked meetings with companies just to have a reason to be in their lobby so I can shoot it! Other countries within Europe are much more welcoming. If I was to have a favourite building to shoot – one that’s been very fruitful – it would be St Paul’s Cathedral. There’s so much there and the surrounding architecture – that’s a really good place to go to learn if you’re starting out. Just go there, look around for what takes your eye, and shoot.
What’s in your bag most of the time?
The Nikon Z 9 plus the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S and the NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S – I have the full trinity. I also use the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S and my drone, tripod, mics…. That’s my run and gun.